Janell Nelson hadn’t worked in downtown Minneapolis for over 20 years. But when she got a new job that brought her back to the heart of the city in early November, she knew immediately that she wasn’t interested in driving to the office every day.
Instead of getting in her car, the Bloomington resident now walks less than a block to a bus stop where she catches Route 597. Within a half hour, she is let off on 2nd Avenue South where she walks an equally short distance to her office.
“I didn’t want the headaches of driving downtown, especially this winter,” Nelson said. “This has just been so convenient.”
The sentiments were shared among a handful of commuters aboard a recent northbound trip on Route 597, an express bus that runs from Bloomington to Minneapolis along the Interstate 35W corridor. Like Nelson, customers said they opted to use transit so they could avoid battling traffic, parking and gas expenses while enjoying some calm during their daily trips to and from work.
“It’s cheaper and I like that I can text or do whatever I want,” said Tomia Gore, who has taken Route 597 over the last three years. “It’s just a much more relaxing way to commute.”
Gore boarded the bus at Normandale Village, a shopping center at the southwest corner of the 98th Street and Normandale Boulevard intersection. Around two-dozen parking spaces have been set aside at the shopping center for Park & Ride use. Depending on her schedule, Gore also uses the Park & Ride to catch Route 589 which travels along Highway 100 and Interstate 394 to Minneapolis.
In addition to Normandale Village, Route 597 serves Park & Rides at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church and the South Bloomington Transit Center. The route’s C and E branches operate south of 98th Street West to Bloomington Ferry Road, serving a number of major employers and residential areas.
Caleb Moore doesn’t need to drive in order to catch the bus, though. He simply walks a block from his home to 102nd Street West and Normandale Boulevard, where the bus picks him up shortly before 7 a.m. In Minneapolis, he’s let off directly in front of his office.
“I don’t have a car, but even if I did I’d still take the bus because I think it’s just a much better way to travel,” Moore said.
While Moore and most other customers on the bus were on their ways to work, Kaleigh Swift was on her way to De La Salle High School. Swift began riding the bus for the first time this semester and, though she’s old enough to drive, has put off getting a license or a car to save money. “And this is just so much easier,” she said.
Though she was the only student traveling northbound, Route 597’s southbound trips help students from Minneapolis get to Normandale Community College, the route’s southern terminus. The college is part of Metro Transit’s College Pass program in which students a participating schools get unlimited rides for $140 or $175 per semester.
Student Life Coordinator Amanda Lilgreen, a Normandale alumnus, said she remembers having to come to class an hour early to find a parking space. Through the promotion of carpooling and transit options like Route 597, those days have largely come to an end.
“Even students who own cars still take the bus because it’s cheaper for them and they can do their homework or read,” Lilgreen said.
To accommodate future travel demands on the I-35W corridor, Metro Transit is developing plans for the METRO Orange Line, a Bus Rapid Transit line that would bring all day, frequent service between Burnsville and Minneapolis. Planning remains ongoing but the hope is to open the Orange Line as early as 2019.
Route 597 would continue operating even with the addition of the new Orange Line service since but BRT would replace Route 535, a complementary service in the I-35W corridor.
Route 597 At a Glance
Service: Route 597 runs along the Interstate 35W corridor providing express bus service between downtown Minneapolis and Bloomington. Buses operate between approximately 6 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on weekdays. There are several Park & Rides along the route, including Normandale Village, Transfiguration Lutheran Church, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church and the South Bloomington Transit Center. Route 597 also provides limited service to the I-35W and 46th Street Station, which opened in 2010 and sits between the northbound and southbound lanes of I-35W. Downtown, Route 597 buses use the Marq2 transit corridor, where NexTrip signage, heated shelters and wider sidewalks have been added to improve the customer experience. Route 597 is Pay Exit bus in which customers pay at the end of their trip to speed boarding on buses leaving downtown during rush hours. Route 597 serves as a complement to Route 535, which also travels along the I-35W corridor providing limited-stop service at 15- to 60-minute intervals on weekdays.
Route length: Approximately 13 miles
Vehicles: 40-foot standard buses and 60-foot articulated buses
Stops: 102 northbound, 203 southbound
Ridership: More than 126,000 customer boardings in 2012, with an average of around 491 boardings per day
History: Express bus service to the south metro began after the construction of I-35W in the 1960s. Before the creation of routes 597 and 535, Route 47 provided express service from 98th Street to downtown Minneapolis. At the south end, Route 597 was extended to Blooming Ferry Road several years ago.
Future: The METRO Orange Line is slated to bring all-day, frequent bus service to the I-35W corridor as between Burnsville and Minneapolis as early as 2019. The addition of the Orange Line will not lead to any changes for Route 597.